Dealing with data storage has become one of the core functions of every employee in every company, worldwide. While everyone else is creating data, it’s the job of IT departments and outside IT consultants to ensure that everyone in the company has access to their data in an accessible manner, restrict access to sensitive data, and protect file storage from loss and theft. Employees are accessing and sharing data through developing and maturing technologies such as file storage synchronization (sync for short) and file sharing. These technologies are driving the change in workflow from an individualized structure to a more unified form across an organization, allowing for a streamlined way to share data and collaborate on projects.

So, what are file sync and file sharing, and how do these differ from data backups? File sync is the management of data across multiple devices and locations through replication and mirroring. Simply put, file sync copies new files to all other devices and updates all other devices when a file is edited or deleted. File sharing is the process of allowing others to access your data storage. Everyone has already been doing this through email and physical media for decades, but more recently methods have been developed to allow for online data storage across with user-configured access controls to ensure proper security. Backups, in the simplest form, are duplicate copies of files stored elsewhere to ensure that data is never truly lost. While file sync and sharing are sometimes packaged together with online backup products and services, file sync and sharing are more about keeping your data current and allowing you to collaborate with others more easily.

File sharing can further be broken into internal and external recipients. In times gone by internal file sharing was usually handled through emails between employees or with shared storage in the company network. Each person would work on a file individually, and files could only be edited by one person at a time. This certainly worked but was usually a messy and confusing workflow. Either multiple versions of a file resulted in confusion among the team, or the work was slower than it could have been since each person had to make their edits and then everyone had to spend time compiling those into a finished product. Furthermore, because of all the different versions of a file data backups were larger than they should have been, creating additional data management issues and expense. External sharing was usually handled via email or FTP (file transfer protocol) solutions. Email worked fine for small files, but large files required and FTP solution to be transferred across the internet. FTP solutions are an added and ongoing expense, whether in-house or through a service, and the FTP protocol has had its ups and downs regarding standardization and security. And, the same workflow issues arose when sharing data externally that slowed down productivity and made backups difficult.

File sync and  online backup services have been established for some time, and are now maturing into solid business solutions. And, the maturing cloud infrastructures available are seeing price drops and performance boosts as the tech industry moves forward. The major services currently include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive, and SugarSync. Additionally, Owncloud is establishing a foothold in the market for those that want or need custom solutions. Amazon’s AWS platform does not offer file sync on its own, but because of the robust platform and development capabilities it is well worth consideration. The following table compares the key features to consider when searching for the best fit for your needs.

cloud storage table

Dropbox has come a long way, but has had some notable issues with security over the years. Also, they have struggled to meet stringent industry compliance and regulations. That said, Dropbox has certainly improved over the years and is the only one of these services to offer LAN-sync, which greatly improves performance inside your network. Google Drive has also found it difficult to meet compliance standards because of their terms of service. The fact that they have been known to scan your data for advertising purposes and the issue of data ownership have put them low on the list for organizations with strict privacy requirements. Furthermore, for a company that offers extremely fast internet service Google has been known to limit bandwidth and be slow in general to use. Microsoft’s services were once quite terrible, but as they have matured they have come into their own. Decent connection speeds, good compliance standards, and reasonable prices, and no development requirements up front make OneDrive a good all-around choice for most. SugarSync is a bit price and lacks clear compliance certifications, but is the only pre-made service to offer file sync of files stored anywhere on your computer. OwnCloud and Amazon are both great choices if you need completely customized solutions, but the effort required up front to implement make these services good only if you are willing to find 3rd party software or build your own to get the features you want. Furthermore, there are so many variables to custom solutions that the cost and performance can be too much to handle for many organizations.

Ultimately, which cloud storage is best for you depends on your needs. And, there are many more online file sync services out there that may have the one feature no one else has. As with everything in IT, the key is narrowing down the options based on the core needs of your organization, then researching that short list for the details that can make the difference. Hopefully, this article has helped you feel confident that you can ask the right questions and make the right decision.
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